Hail, flooding, mudslides: The 19th stage was chaotic and aborted prematurely. Egan Bernal seized the yellow jersey, and Thibaut Pinot was forced to retire — but this stage will be remembered for the adverse conditions.
Directly behind the tunnel, the hailstones lay centimeters high and piled up to form a blanket of snow, painting the meadows white. In the middle of summer, the landscape below the Val d'Isere ski resort looked very wintry. In addition, a mudslide had slipped onto the road and submerged it and snowplows were left to make the asphalt passable for the cyclists. About 30 kilometers before the finish, the riders approached the dangerous spot where they would suddenly drive from the dry asphalt through the tunnel into the wet. The race control then made the logical decision to cancel the 19th stage.
The drivers were informed by radio, but few seemed to understand this at first sight. Some were animated as they discussed it, while others raced further down the winding road. This included the leader, Egan Bernal, who didn't want to surrender his possible stage victory and the overall leader, Julian Alaphilippe, was angry. Meanwhile, temperatures dipped dramatically, to around 18 degrees.
Bernal seizes the moment
How bitter it must have been for Alaphilippe when he learned shortly after that he had to give up his yellow jersey. Because there was not the opportunity to complete the stage, the times that the riders had recorded on the penultimate summit, the Iseran, were used as the final times. So the Colombian Egan Bernal took over the yellow jersey on the penultimate and decisive 20th stage. He is only the third Colombian ever to ride in yellow on a tour.
For the French it was a day to forget. For 14 stages, Alaphilippe had lit up in yellow and put the whole country on standby for that rarest of things in the Tour de France: a French winner. The last French Tour victory was in 1985 when Bernard Hinault triumphed. Since the last stage in Paris, the 21st leg, is traditionally not contested, Saturday is the decisive day. Bernal is now 45 seconds ahead of Alaphilippe.
Pinot out, Buchmann in
As if that wasn't disappointing enough for cycling enthusiasts, there was some sad news from a local hero: Thibaut Pinot, fifth overall and with a chance of a podium finish was forced to retire not 30 kilometers before the finish but 85 kilometres. He had previously received treatment for an injury on his left leg, but could not continue and gave up in tears. His Groupama-FDJ team later announced on Twitter that Pinot had already suffered a muscle fibre tear in his left thigh on Thursday. His condition on Friday worsened.
However, this bizarre stage went well for Emanuel Buchmann. The German had ridden with the favorites over the penultimate mountain, which is now being evaluated, and thus still has a chance of finishing on the podium as fifth overall with a gap of only 1:42 minutes. "On Saturday Emanuel will go to the limit. Now he doesn't have to save any more energy and doesn't have to secure anything anymore," said the sporting director of Bora-hansgrohe, Enrico Poitschke. "Now he can give whatever his body can give him."